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Monday, May 20, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Saving `Heart, Soul' Of City

Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau

LYNNWOOD - Betty Wickers Gruwell used to avoid the Alderwood Manor neighborhoods of her youth.

It was too painful to see how strip malls, car dealerships and fast-food chains had displaced the old wood-frame houses, mom-and-pop stores and small farms she grew up with in the 1940s.

But now she's back, part of a small but growing effort to save a few traces of Lynnwood's only historic center from bulldozers during this latest round of Interstate 5 improvements.

"It's the heart and soul of Lynnwood," said Gruwell, 61.

At least it used to be.

Alderwood Manor, known in the 1920s as one of the nation's largest producers of chicken eggs, once flourished where I-5's 196th Street Southwest interchange now lies. If laid end to end, one year's egg crop would have stretched from New York to San Francisco, or so the story went.

By the time the freeway opened in 1964, ripping a swath through the heart of the original community, the days of chicken farming were mostly over.

Wickers Store, where Gruwell grew up, was half-lucky that time. It lost only its gas pumps and front porch to the new 196th Street overpass. Directly across the street, an I-5 offramp replaced storefronts built in the 1920s.

That freeway interchange literally paved the way for modern development along 196th, which today is a major arterial for motorists bound for Alderwood Mall or Edmonds.

Now a much larger, full-diamond I-5 interchange is in the works and expected to open next year. And this time, Gruwell's childhood home is in the way. Wickers Store, built in 1919 as the town's general store and post office, is one of only four Lynnwood buildings eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The city plans to move it - maybe next to a restored trolley car alongside the Interurban Trail, since the old rail line used to stop at the general store.

But the town's first barbershop and farmers' co-op will be demolished. So might what's left of the "demonstration farm," built around 1919 to teach newcomers the basics of farm living. Its hotel, superintendent's cottage and water tower are to be demolished in August unless the city or community finds money to move them.

Earlier this month, the City Council authorized $18,600 to study whether it's structurally possible to move the farm buildings. Two downtown sites remain

In the former downtown, only the Masonic Temple, built in 1921, and Manor Hardware, built as a two-room schoolhouse in 1917, will remain. Both are eligible for the national historic register.

The city's only structure officially listed on the national register is Keeler's Korner Gas Station, on Highway 99 at 164th Street Southwest, north of Alderwood Manor.

Alderwood Manor was a pioneer planned community. Puget Mill Co. logged the land, then in 1917 divided it into small parcels just the right size for chicken farms, and marketed them to Easterners.

Overnight, it grew into a community of "gentleman farmers," including many who commuted via the old Interurban trolley to Seattle jobs, while raising chickens and tending gardens on the side.

By summer 1922, Alderwood Manor was booming: 1,463 people and 200,000 hens.

Lynnwood, which incorporated in 1959 around the junction of Highway 99 and 196th, west of Alderwood Manor, today has a population of more than 32,400.

The planned demolition of much of what's left of Alderwood's past is upsetting to a group of Alderwood Middle School students who want to save the buildings. Lynnwood already is too impersonal, without any sense of community, they said.

"We want to leave some of the old buildings to show what it was like," said Kristen McCormick, 13, who helped to write an article in a school newsletter about the threatened demonstration-farm buildings.

"We can learn things from these old buildings," said Darla Durkin, 12. "If they tear them down, we can only learn about history from books, which is really boring."

But to many, the freeway was a plus.

Former Mayor H.J. "Herk" Hrdlicka, a city councilman when I-5 was built, said nobody argued against putting the freeway through the middle of Alderwood Manor.

"It was seen as an improvement," he said. "They can't save every old building. Sometimes things have to go. Do you stop a whole highway from being built that improves things for more than 250,000 (people)? It's a tough thing."

Lynnwood's hardly unusual in that regard, said Snohomish County historian David Dilgard.

"All sorts of buildings in Seattle just got creamed" when I-5 went through, he said. "Of course, now we know some of those buildings were the most historic properties that could be found, that you'd give your left arm to recreate now."

The only obvious remnant today of old Alderwood Manor is Wickers Store, now A-1 Appliance, on busy 196th. Few motorists probably notice the forlorn, two-story building with its peeling stucco and graffiti-stained brick.

Look for the white letters spelling "TV Repair" on a second-story window facing the I-5 offramp: That was Gruwell's living room.

In the minimall parking lot next door, partly hidden by an espresso stand, is a tiny building that once housed the town's barbershop. Around the corner to the south, on 37th Avenue West, is the old farmers' co-op, now Oak Barn Furniture. Both will be razed for the new freeway interchange.

Manor Hardware and the Masonic Temple are only a block away, but it's hard to find them. Both lie on a tiny spur of 136th Avenue West accessible only from Alderwood Mall Boulevard.

On the other side of the freeway, the demonstration-farm buildings are nearly invisible, hidden in the trees between I-5 and a new Eagle Hardware store.

Although the area has changed drastically, Michael Echelbarger, 50, remembers long-gone small-town landmarks.

As a boy, he used to walk up two-lane Alderwood Road (now five-lane 196th) to buy candy at the Red & White store (now a minimall parking lot) and two-for-a-nickel doughnuts at the bakery (now Taco Time).

"The freeway took away the youth club, the horse arena and the tennis courts," Echelbarger said, and after that the old buildings along the main drag were doomed.

Lynnwood's City Council has, until recently, paid little attention to preserving landmarks.

Echelbarger fought hard but lost 10 years ago when he tried to save Lynnwood's oldest house, built around 1916, from the wrecking ball. The City Council wouldn't give him the zoning change he needed to move it to a lot near the Alderwood Mall and restore it for offices for his development company. That loss inspired the creation five years ago of the nonprofit Alderwood Manor Heritage Association. Early on, organizers sought out Gruwell, now an Edmonds resident. Pushing aside her sadness for things long gone, she's become the group's photo archiver.

Last fall, the city again lost its oldest house, this time the 1917 home of W.A. Irwin, credited as the man who created Alderwood Manor.

The City Council previously had voted against creating a Historical Recognition Committee. After the bulldozers took down Irwin's house, the council changed its mind.

Losses sadden councilman

City Councilman Ned Daniels, another committee member, is saddened by Lynnwood's past losses. He hopes his peers will recognize the value of saving what's left, "so people can't say Lynnwood history is an oxymoron."

Daniels doesn't buy the story that the demonstration farm must be gone by this summer. If the ramp project were postponed for a year, he said, "maybe some citizens in the community would step forward and say, `Well, I have an idea' " for saving it.

A decision has been made that the farm buildings "lack integrity," he said, while most residents of Lynnwood have no idea they even exist.

"That demonstration farm was the catalyst for Lynnwood being here," Daniels said.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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